Monday, September 25, 2023

Peter Brunt: gastroenterologist, physician to the Queen in Scotland, and ordained priest

  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}

Peter Brunt, professor of medicine in Aberdeen, worked with some outstanding pioneers before becoming one himself—as one of the first physician-gastroenterologists. In the world at large he was perhaps better known as physician to the Queen in Scotland, a man often asked: “Does the Queen Mother really drink Dubonnet?”

Urbane and widely trusted, Brunt went to Aberdeen despite protests from the fiery Sheila Sherlock, the mother of hepatology and one of the most outstanding women in 20th century medicine. Brunt was a Wellcome clinical fellow in her unit.

Determined to keep him in London, Sherlock, of the Royal Free Hospital, phoned his wife, Ann, a fellow doctor, and asked, “What’s the matter with your husband? Why does he want to go to Aberdeen? What’s wrong?”

Her forthright appeal underlined the talent of a calm, measured man—temperamentally her polar opposite. Speaking to the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, Brunt recalled squirming in his chair as Sherlock roundly dismissed as “rubbish” the views of a visiting, distinguished US hepatologist.

Sherlock was not alone in insisting Brunt stay put. Victor McKusick, the father of modern genetics, exclaimed that Brunt would be “mad” to return jobless to the UK from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

The two men had developed a close rapport, beginning at 6 am on a Sunday, Brunt’s first day in Baltimore. McKusick drove Brunt 240 miles in …

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